Under the Influence…

November 19, 2007


One of the bits of this blog that gets most visits is the page called ‘Looking at…..’ 

In it I cite the artists who I’m currently influenced by, or at least, artists who I’m keen to look at and learn from. 

I’m often asked who I’m influenced by and, despite the blog page, it’s a question I find difficult to answer.   I’m can’t say I’m conciously aware of being influenced by anyone, though of course this is utter nonsense as we’re all influenced by others and  inevitably ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’. The problem is it’s so hard to be aware of that influence.

However I am aware of finding certain artists ‘enabling’.  By ‘enabling’ I mean that I probably wouldn’t work as I do without their example.   For instance I owe a lot to Richard Long and his stone lines and circles…..

long-cr10.jpg Richard Long

However, I’m not following in his path (no pun on his work intended) but rather forging my own, since Long’s concerns, aims and intentions are completely different from mine.  But does this mean I’m influenced by Long?  Of course it does – though subtly and indirectly, and hence the difficulty.

Similarly Andy Goldsworthy often gives me the confidence to make certain types of work though any similarities are purely coincidental  (See previous posting ‘Shadows Past’)

In my newly proposed ‘Metamorphosis’ piece (see previous postings) where slate flakes will be spread on the floor in the form of a giant shadow I do feel that there is a danger some folk will see my work as a poor man’s version of a Tony Cragg ‘spread’……. 

 cragg-spread-r15.jpg Tony Cragg

I only know Cragg’s work from books and the web, but I like what I see.  Though I’ve never looked to him for ‘ideas’ or ‘inspiration’ I’d nevertheless say he’s another candidate for my personal collection of  artists I find ‘enabling’. 

There is nothing new under the sun – look hard enough and someone, somewhere will have made something similar to you. I often feel that at some point in his life Bruce Nauman has made work that pre-figures some aspect of just about everyone else working at present.  Perhaps it’s a ‘zeitgeist’ thing?


So am I influenced by Long, Goldsworthy and Cragg?  The answer is ‘yes’,  although I’ve always developed my own work independently, finding my own path via my own working processes.


Artists like Cragg often make social comment in their work, which I never do. For me the big question  (actually I think it’s the only question) is the one Gaugin asked: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we Going? 

Until I know the answer I’ll just get on with making what I can as best as I can.  What more can one hope to do?


Short Intermission

October 8, 2007

Regular visitors to this blog will see that there have been no new postings recently. This is owing to pressure of work which currently is taking me away from home and the computer. Reluctantly I have decided to give blogging a short break till I’m able to spend more time at home.

I do hope you’ll bear with me till I re-commence blogging, which I expect to be sometime around 26th October.

See you then!


September 22, 2007

Anna Huston recently asked about the process of stitching slate flakes  (See comments on ‘Shadows Past and Present’)

Rather than reply in the comments box I’ll describe the process here. It’s very simple……


Find a suitable flake – (this one is about 2 inches high) then look at the flake and ‘ask it what it wants’.

(When decorating his pots the Japanese ceramicist Shoji Hamada would look at the pot and ‘ask it what it wants’.  This is my own approach to designing the flakes) 

When the flake has ‘told me what it wants’  I respond with Chinese White watercolour crayon…..


 The dark shadow around the drawing is where I’ve brushed on a drop of water – it helps the watercolour crayon move smoothly over the slate surface.

 I’m often asked if my designs are runic marks or Ogham.  They are neither, they are just drawings. 

When I’m happy with the design I drill the holes…….


Next I wash the dust and the crayon marks off the slate and then the flake is ready for stitching…….


Et voila!  –  The finished flake.  I mostly use linen thread in white or natural, rubbed well with beeswax.

The whole process is extremely simple – the only problem is I’ve got to stitch a few hundred more…….

SO……..time to get back to work!

But before I do I must just mention Lynda and Maggie who are both bloggers – click on their names to take a look. 


Shadows Past and Present

September 12, 2007


This is the Long Man of Wilmington, a 69metre (227 feet) high ancient hill figure on the South Downs. I’ve known him since my childhood, and naturally he is part of the background ‘landscape of thinking’ that lies behind my proposed ‘Metamorphosis’ piece.

 You can  find out more about the Long Man on the web-site of the Sussex Archaeological Society.

The Long Man seems to change shape depending on the position you view him from, as is shown in these two sketches……


The image on the left is the Long Man as he appears from the foot of the South Downs and the one on the right the shape he actually is, as revealed by aerial photography.

Making ‘Metamorphosis’ requires drawing up a full-sized template and drawing a large image flat on the floor presents similar problems, since you can’t stand back to get a better look at the proportions of the work. Drawing a big image on the wall would also be impractical since I don’t have a high ceiling (nor a head for heights!)

With this in mind I’m hoping that tracing round different people’s elongated shadows on the ground will be a nice way of arriving at some interesting images. Furthemore, since the shadow templates will be drawn on the ground they should ‘look right’ on the gallery floor, whether seen from floor level or from above – eg. from a stair or balcony.  Having traced a fair sized shadow it is an easy matter to square it up like a tapestry cartoon.

Just to get started my partner drew round my shadow as it fell accross a large sheet of paper laid out on the grass…….


This was traced at mid-morning and is 250cm (8ft. 2inches) long.

(Although it was just intended as an initial ‘try-out’ to get a feel for the process I like the drawing and may scale it up larger to use at some future date.) 


Later I scattered the head and shoulders of the drawing with a few embroidered slate flakes just to get a rough idea of how the piece might eventually look…….


The final work will be on a much larger scale and with the flakes more densely placed. Also the flakes will be spread onto a plain white horizontal plinth and not on top of a drawing on paper.   However I’m quite pleased with the early indications.


Work will be interrupted for a few days as I’ve to be at the Knitting and Stitching Show at the NEC,  Birmingham.  I’m not exhibiting finished work this time but do intend having some ‘works in progress’  on the Embroiderers’ Guild stand, including the still unfinished ‘Studies’ piece (see earlier postings) and some shadow drawings. 

I’ll also be stitching more slate flakes……


I’m hoping visitors to the Knitting and Stitching Show will find this blog and post comments about the show (click on the ‘how to leave a comment’ page if your’e not sure how to do it).   

Looking forward to reading your comments…..

Shadows Past

September 8, 2007


This silhouette of me is a piece of work I made as an art student in 1992.  I first got a friend to draw round my body as I lay on the floor of my room on a large sheet of paper. Later I cut out the figure, took it outside and chalked round it on the cobbled street, leaving the body as a negative space.  The circular dish is filled with ashes, which later I used to fill in the body shape…….

battlebridge-r18.jpg Battlebridge Road 1992

At the time I made this piece I didn’t really know what I was doing, and recently I’ve been embroidering little slate flakes without quite knowing why.  I suppose in both cases it’s been a kind of ‘thinking hand’ process…….


The unresolved piece I made as a student must have been lurking at the back of my mind for 15 years, since I’ve now decided I want to use the embroidered flakes in a similar work – but this time much larger and far more ambitious.  Rather than using an outline of a body I intend to trace round an elongated human shadow, using the tracing as a template in which to carefuly place the embroidered flakes……..


Pencil sketches never come out clearly when scanned, but this is a rough sketch showing the shadow figure on a low horizontal plinth being admired by two amazed gallery visitors to the left. (The blurred shapes in the lower right corner are just three flakes drawn actual size on the A4 paper) The shadow template will be drawn from life from an actual cast shadow which I may have to enlarge to get the scale I’m hoping for. 

What I particularly like is that the work can be re-assembled within  different shadow templates,  hence I think the working title should be ‘Metamorphosis’.


The idea of using a shadow reminds me a little of Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘Rainshadows’ – (though I didn’t have his work in mind when I hit on my idea for ‘Metamorphosis’).  In his ‘Rainshadows’ Goldsworthy lies on the ground at the commencement of a shower of rain or snow and then gets up to leave a dry ‘shadow’ on the wet ground. To my mind they are among his most eloquent works. You can see one at Yorkshire Sculpture Park  (scroll down their webpage to find ‘Shadow Stone’ )


Returning to ‘Metamorphosis’,  each little slate flake is an embroidery complete in itself – yet each separate flake will contribute to the greater whole of the complete shadow figure. The slate flakes themselves might be considered as analogous to random filling stitches. They will not be stitched down to any backing because I want the work to have a vulnerable and impermanent feel, and as already stated the flakes can be rearranged to fit different people’s shadows in different situations. This mutability is important to the piece.


I hope that a huge shadow of stitched slate fragments cast slant-wise across the gallery floor might  suggest the idea of ‘shadow’ in a loosely Jungian sense of the word. On the other hand perhaps the piece is just about the pleasures of stitching…….



Postscript to Stirling

August 31, 2007

The Scottish Branches Summer School was held this year at Stirling University because the usual venue, Galashiels, is undergoing refurbishment at present.

One of the joys of Stirling University is that it houses a good collection of twentieth century art…….. 

bellany-r50r15.jpg Stirling University Collection

(I don’t know if it’s legal to reproduce a snapshot like this – but I’ve done it anyway!)

The University of Stirling’s Art Collection is open to the public and well worth a visit. To find out more go to their web-site and take the ‘gallery tour’ or better still visit the University and enjoy the art for real!

I’ve had a nice comment from Moira whom I met at Stirling.  Moira keeps an interesting blog, as does Maggie Grey, who I discovered via Moira’s blog. Click on their names to visit!    

Stirling Work

August 29, 2007


The University of Stirling was the venue for this year’s Embroiderers’ Guild Scottish Branches Summer School. I ran  a workshop exploring the possibilities of stitching with unorthodox materials, and students brought with them a variety of things to experiment with including driftwood, old electrical circuit boards, pocket watches, a shoe, nuts and bolts, tree bark  – even the rusted remains of an old wheelbarrow!


 Danger!   Embroiderers at work!



I know from experience that the only predictable thing about these workshops is how unpredictable everyone’s work can be……

wheelbarrow-cr10.jpg Appliqued wheelbarrow rust

ann-r50r15.jpg Wrapped slate shards

judy-cr10.jpg Pine bark strip

slate-boxr10.jpg Slate box

show-r10.jpg General view of Student’s work

show-r10_2.jpg General view of Students’ work 

show-_2-r10.jpg General view of Students’ work

All in all a very successful workshop. Congrats to all!